We'll have recaps of the three games Kansas will play in Orlando this weekend, but first I would like to give a quick preview for Kansas's projected road to the championship game. If you're looking for a larger preview for the Rhode Island than I am going to run through, I would recommend the always excellent Jesse Newell.
Kansas takes on the undefeated Rams, fresh off a victory over Nebraska, in the tournament opener at 1, which, since it's the second tournament game, will likely be around a half hour late.
Rhode Island has posted some impressive numbers, but there's also reason for optimism. The Rams currently are the nation's best defensive rebounding team, allowing opponents to grab just 15.7 percent of their misses. Obviously this is an extremely low number, and on its surface doesn't bode well for a Kansas team that has struggled to rebound, but other than Nebraska, Rhode Island has played the horrible UMass-Lowell and the horrible Pace. Further, while Nebraska is an above average team size wise, UMass-Lowell is one of the smaller teams in the country, just 351st in effective height. Rhode Island itself is a smaller team, so the Jayhawks should be able to rebound well against the Rams.
That size will also come in handy for the Jayhawks defensively. The Rams rank 17th in the country in two-point field goal percentage, but as Jesse showed in his preview, Kansas has actually been pretty good at rim defense this year, allowing teams to shoot 53 percent at the rim (which by the way is the stat that surprised me the most so far this season).
The Rams' lack of size also obviously bodes well for Perry Ellis, as evidenced by the post about him that I promise is coming sometime in 2014. It should also allow Landen Lucas and Cliff Alexander to impact the game, assuming they can get some playing time.
Assuming Kansas wins, they'll likely advance to play Tennessee, whom they should have a 65 percent or so chance of beating. Tennessee is destroying teams on the offensive glass, ranking second nationally, but this is more a devotion to crashing the glass rather than any rebounding talent, as their defensive rebounding rank is 340th in the country. Tennessee has also played fairly slow this season, which I think will bode well for Kansas. Obviously they are better at scoring while running the floor, but they need a few games here where teams will force them to run the offense.
Tennessee is allowing teams to take half their shots from three, and teams are making 35.8 percent of them, so it will be an interesting test of Bill Self's assertion that Kansas would take more threes this year. Currently the Jayhawks rank 309th in 3PA/FGA.
The Jayhawks final game, assuming they beat Rhode Island, figures to be against Michigan State or Georgia Tech. The Spartans of Michigan State also struggled in the Champions Classic, but have rebounded nicely with big wins over Loyola and Santa Clara. The Spartans currently rank 7th in defensive rebounding and 20th in twos, so they're going to provide a stiff test for Kansas. They're also assisting on 68 percent of their field goals, so they're sort of where Kansas wants to be in terms of being able to run an offense. Still, I think Kansas will be able to throw enough good wing defenders at Branden Dawson to frustrate him enough to maybe not totally negate him but at least make him inefficient enough for Kansas to squeak out a win.
If the Jayhawks meet Georgia Tech, the Jackets have a fair amount of size, but are struggling a bit for an offensive identity after losing three of their four best players off last year's team. The Jackets mostly rely on the old Frank Martin technique of shooting twos and crashing the offensive glass. Tech ranks 8th nationally in offensive rebounding, and Junior Charles Mitchell is currently the 4th best offensive rebounder in the nation. One player to be aware of for sure is 6'9" Quinton Stephens, who is shooting an identical 8-14 from two and three.
I think Kansas will lose the tournament final to Michigan State, but anywhere from third to first place seems fairly equally likely for the Jayhawks, whose tournament fate is almost entirely up to them.